Remembering Sarah Burke — Gord Burke
Sarah was an amazing little kid. I never had a bad day in my life with her. She had a great sense of humor, always happy, and we had so much fun together. Those are the memories that stick with me: that smiling, cheerful little kid that had a deep, deep laugh.
When she was about 4, we had a wood stove that would heat the house, and we’d have this routine when she’d help bring the wood in. I’d pass her one piece—that’s all she could handle—and in between every log we brought in, I’d lie on the floor and launch her in the air and she’d do some pretty cool somersaults.
She could make a game out of just about anything on the hill. She and I would often ski through the trees and make up a whole story that related to our path through the woods. She could spend all day just going up the lift and finding a new path, coming up with a new fairytale that would guide her down the woods. Those were good, happy times, every time she skied.
We were lucky that we lived about 10 minutes from a fairly small ski hill, and they had night skiing seven days a week. So in her adolescent years, she’d come home on the school bus and we could run her over to the hill. It was just a great way to grow up. She wasn’t hanging out in the mall or anything. There were no competitions back then, just a bit of fun.
When her mom and I split up, I really wanted to cushion the bad feelings and the difficulty she would have, so I basically took the winters off every year and drove kids around to competitions and took her skiing because I loved being with her so much. Those were awesome years. If Jan and I hadn’t split up, I probably wouldn’t have been trying to compensate as much.
Those years when she started to mogul ski, were so much fun. We were in hotels traveling around Québec and Ontario, but we never did it with the thought that it would lead to anything more than being a healthy person, growing up and enjoying life.
It was nice to have the privilege of watching her grow. I got to be there when she did her first 360. And within a two-day period, I watched her do a 720, then a 1080 when she was 14 years old. On the car ride after a good day like that, she’d sort of be sleeping in the seat. It was the best.
There was never an event when she wouldn’t call me between runs. It didn’t matter if she was in Europe or places I couldn’t get to, I’d always get a call like, “Oh no, what do I do now? I’m down to my third run!” I couldn’t be like Trennon and tell her what to do, but I could tell her how strong and confident she was. Then she’d say, “OK dad, I’ll call you when I win.” And 99-percent of the time, she’d call me right back, “I can’t really talk, but I just wanted to let you know that I won.” It was a really special gift that she gave me by always reminding me of the younger times.
Not seeing her as much lately, we made a deal that we’d see each other 12 times a year. Sometimes it was just a few minutes in an airport, but we’d still count it. Other times it’d be a week in BC or a week back here in Ontario or a few days at X Games. For a couple of adults who lived on opposite sides of the country, we did pretty well up to the end.
At her wedding, as most dads have to do, I had to say a few words. I tried to get across how enormously proud I was of her. The skiing always comes up, but what really shone through—especially in the last six months—is how people have appreciated the person she was. It’s not about a little girl that skied, but an absolutely astoundingly amazing human who touched us all.
You listen to what the doctors tell you, and you hold her hand and you do whatever you’re capable of. Unfortunately in this case, neither I, nor anybody else, was capable of doing anything that would have changed things. You feel mostly helplessness. As time goes along, minute by minute, you’re being taken down a path that you can’t do anything about.
I’ll never be the same again. But I’m so grateful to have been able to get to Salt Lake and to hold her hand. Even though things seem unbelievably horrible, I often have more tears for the wonderful humanity that pulled together and honored her.
I obviously get bogged down with the sadness of it all, but what keeps shining through is how amazingly lucky I’ve been: 29 years of what felt like a real utopia with someone who never failed to go beyond expectations.
I’m as proud as anyone could be. She was my friend and somebody that I knew deeply, but I didn’t realize how much of the world was aware of what a special person she was. Every day I’m enormously proud and every day I think of her, hundreds of times. There isn’t anything in the world that doesn’t make me think of her.
Sarah would be very, very happy about how she’s being remembered. She would be absolutely blown away and awestruck at what has happened because she was very humble.
She really was my greatest friend. From the day she was born.
— Gord Burke: Father
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Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.